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  Click here to go to the first staff post in this thread.   Thread: Grammar and writing

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    Retired Staff Frank LeRenard's Avatar
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    Grammar and writing

    In the interest of having a little writing discussion in this clearly art-dominated forum, I thought I'd bring this up here.

    So, in my experience, having given probably 100 critiques in my life to various pieces of writing, it seems like grammar--that being the basic rules of the written English language--is something a lot of [mostly novice] writers tend to just take for granted. I hear the excuse all the time that, "Oh, I'm just no good with grammar, but I have a friend who's good at proofreading," or other very similar statements. Like that's okay. Like you can achieve the optimal effect by letting your friend decide what you really mean.
    Now, I think I know where these folks are coming from, or at least where they got the idea that that level of incompetence was okay. When you read famous authors (from the modern era; pre-1940s literature, for the most part, seems to have perfect grammar), you see a lot of non-sentences, misused punctuation, strange structure, false starts, run-ons, and so on and so forth (all the things you're told in school that you shouldn't do), and so I think people see that and assume it means grammar is secondary to meaning somehow. Which is a perfectly logical assumption to make, the first time you see it.
    But it's wrong. It's this whole gray area in art, this ambiguous thing called "style", or (more frequently in writing) "voice". Artists who critique art complain about this endlessly, that certain novices excuse their horrendous anatomy or color choice or whatever as "their style". But I think everyone who knows anything about this stuff knows that's not an excuse. Style (or voice) is something you develop AFTER you learn the basics. In other words, you shouldn't break rules out of ignorance; you should break them with intent and purpose, to achieve a desired effect.
    Well, it's the same thing with grammar in writing. Those famous authors you hear about who write horrible sentences? They're doing that on purpose. They know how the sentence is supposed to go, officially, but they choose to ignore that in favor of emphasis, illuminating a certain point, or any number of other things. They aren't uneducated like you, and that's why people can find meaning in what they write but just get confused by your junk. Because there are rules, and because said rules have a reason to exist (more often than not it's just clarity, actually), it's fairly easy to tell who knows the rules and who's just being lazy.
    You can innovate so much better if you work around your tools as they're designed. You know... when you go to use a crowbar, remember first that it's a lever.

    Agree, disagree? Want to add something? Want to subtract something?

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    Senior Tybby's Avatar
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    I couldn't agree more. I think people break the rules of grammar not out of ignorance, but because they saw a more experiences artist break their grammar and didn't establish the link between style and meaning.

    Grammar, broken or unbroken, is a hugely important tool that the writer possesses, and can completely alter the tone, and therefore the meaning of a statement.

    For a direct example of grammar broken well, Cat Power's booklet for her album "You Are Free" completely lacks capitalization and punctuation. The artist in this way gives the writing a more natural feel, just the words without any formal alteration, which matches the sound of the album. (That sounds being "4 chords and the truth")

    When looking at an example like this, it's very easy to think "The artist just didn't care about grammar, and yet they still wrote an excellent piece", which could negatively influence ones interactions with writing.

    It's disappointing that readers often come to this conclusion, instead of putting in the effort to think how the story might benefit from being written in such a way.

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    Senior Namba's Avatar
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    And this is why the english language has gone to hell.

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    Is a boringly-written story bad grammar?

    I like reading short stories. Sometimes a story will really stand out to me, while others will fall flat despite my predilection towards the subject matter. A story I like will have a rhythm to the words. The writer knows how to convey imagery through the written word and it takes me into the story and its world. Other stories seem too literal - if that makes sense. I've read many a story where the cadence is "He does this, then does that, then says this thing, then does that non plot-integral thing that I, the writer, describe in unnecessary detail." The words just don't have any pizazz.

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    pixel-pusher Aden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tigercougar View Post
    Is a boringly-written story bad grammar?

    I like reading short stories. Sometimes a story will really stand out to me, while others will fall flat despite my predilection towards the subject matter. A story I like will have a rhythm to the words. The writer knows how to convey imagery through the written word and it takes me into the story and its world. Other stories seem too literal - if that makes sense. I've read many a story where the cadence is "He does this, then does that, then says this thing, then does that non plot-integral thing that I, the writer, describe in unnecessary detail." The words just don't have any pizazz.
    You're more describing tone and cadence than grammar. If written passages were songs, the tone and cadence might be the key and beat, and the grammar could be hitting notes inside the scale and having a well-tuned instrument

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    Retired Staff Frank LeRenard's Avatar
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    Sure, what Aden said. To me, language is most powerful when it's both artistic and precise. Unless your intent is to confuse people, you should always practice saying exactly what you mean, but how you say it is another matter that's equally as important when it comes to creative writing. I tend to get the biggest kick out of sentences that manage to smush two or three different implied meanings into them, which is something you can only pull off if you put every word in the right place.
    I say grammar, but what I really mean is clarity and focus. Which is what grammar is for in the first place.

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    Senior Sparky15756's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Namba View Post
    And this is why the english language has gone to hell.
    its only goin 2 hell bcoz uve stil got ppl who tlk lik dis @ times n it gets on my nerves!!!!!!! ur not kool ur not hip ur just a stoopid shithead get a lyf.............

    It's spelling and grammar like that which REALLY annoys me, you've gone through education and learnt how to spell properly, and use grammar too, so why not use it and show yourself to be intelligent? I know I'm one to talk because of that above message but I only type like that when I'm mocking someone, and I used to type like that too so I know how it feels to be unintelligent.

  8. #8
    I agree wholeheartedly, and it makes me regret ignoring my English classes when I was in school. I used to be a roleplayer, and I thought that I knew all there was to know about writing, that I didn't need to know these damned rules because my shit was the cat's meow.

    I was young, stupid, and arrogant. My writing was terrible, made worse by bad roleplaying habits, and when I realized that I stopped writing altogether. Makes me wish there was some sort of good resource for adults to learn grammar.

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    pixel-pusher Aden's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aradia View Post
    Makes me wish there was some sort of good resource for adults to learn grammar.
    Honestly, just read a lot and pay attention to how the author punctuates and phrases. You don't have to know all the technical terms and rules to know where in a phrase to place a comma, for example; a lot of it can be left to intuition

    And if you mess up a minor detail here and there, well, that's what editors are for!

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    Senior Tybby's Avatar
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    Required reading for the budding writer:

    http://colfa.utsa.edu/Sociology/the-...s-of-style.pdf

    If you are a writer and you do not have this book in your studio then shame on you and shame on every possible instance of yourself within this unfathomably large multiverse

 

 

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